Report No. 7. Sunday, August 31 thru Monday, September 1. BIRDWALK, BOATBIRDING


Reminder: Sharon's added comments are in {brackets}. Comments inserted after returning to San Jose are in red.

Sunday, August 31, 2003. Day 18 of 118. GUIDED BIRDWALK. SSSSSS.

We get up, dress and head out to the reception area, to meet Andrew Iles, who leads a 2.5-hour birdwalk every day. Andrew has a great ear for the birds. During the walk, I record these words into my digital voice recorder, as we saw each bird. I've eliminated the spaces between birds.

YELLOW-SPOTTED HONEYEATER*, GREY WHISTLER*, GRACEFUL HONEYEATER*, VARIED TRILLER* - male and female, Forest Kingfisher, Mistletoebird, Sunbird, Got a couple of Olive-backed Orioles, Gould's Bronze-cuckoo but didn't recognize and didn't see. Now out in the orchard. Little Shrike-thrush on the ground. Spotted Catbird just flew in. Large-billed Scrubwren. Papuan Frogmouth (upgrade), perched in tree. I was looking for the bird, and when I saw it, it was five times bigger than the size I was searching for. Down by the river now. Yellow Honeyeater, WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO SHRIKE*. Sharon found that bird before any of us. That girl's good! We find a bird that lands, lifts a wing, sets in back in place, then repeats with the other one, repeating this cycle. It's a Cuckoo-shrike trait, not woodswallow as we thought a few days ago (I go back and correct that entry later). Now over at Ron's (owner of the caravan park) house. Flying Foxes hanging upside down in bamboo cluster. Black butcherbird fly-through. We're looking at White-throated Honeyeater. Scaly-breasted Lorrikeet. Whit whit whit of Striated Pardalote. Great look at White-throated Honeyeater. Andrew pointed out to us the Metallic Starling colony. He says the nests have mites, stay 50 yards away, like chiggers in Missouri. YELLOW-BREASTED BOATBILL* beautiful - white throat, yellow bright underparts.

Near the end of the birdwalk, we pass the corner of the property, where a bushy tree stands - I'm guessing it's a fig tree. Just before we get there, two small, chunky looking birds fly from the tree calling like parrots. "Double-eyed Fig-parrots," yells Andrew, pointing and rotating as the birds fly. Not good enough to count. "Flying potatoes," he continues. And a good description.

This birdwalk was $25 Australian per person and well worth it. Jean Paul and girlfriend Jo were on the walk also. He is French and they are an interesting and fun, energetic couple. They came up from Melbourne to go to a wedding, and are taking this side trip vacation.

Sharon casually asks Andrew "Do you know of any bowers near here?" and I get directions from Andrew on locating the Great Bowerbird's bower in Mt. Molloy, and also how to get to Mt. Lewis, another famous location. As we are sitting inside the motorhome, having breakfast, it suddenly dawns on me that perhaps we might see the Fig-parrots. I open the outside door, but leave the screen door closed.

We eat our breakfast, and suddenly I see movement in the tree, quite close to us. I get the binoculars and even through the screen I can see that it's the DOUBLE-EYED FIG-PARROTS*. What luck! And some common sense. I mean if they were feeding here before and the activity scared them off, wouldn't it make sense that when it got quiet, they might come back? Brilliant deduction, Holmes. You've done it again, Robin.

I quietly slide the door guard of the screen door and shoot some video through the opening. Fantastic. Sharon gets on them too, of course.

We were almost out of fuel last night, so this morning I make it to Mt. Molloy and pay 92.0 cents/liter at the BP. And I'm happy to pay it. The owner/manager and pumper of diesel learns what we are doing, and he reiterates what we heard from Andrew about locating the Great Bowerbird.

We follow the directions, and wind up parked in an empty lot. We see the painted crosswalk everyone talked about and unbelievably, just in front of someone's home, right in TOWN, next to the crosswalk is a wonderful, perfect bower. We actually saw and heard the GREAT BOWERBIRD* first. He bounced around and went to his bower for a moment or two, then flew off, allowing us an inspection.

Hiding in Plain Sight

It is an Avenue bower built of dry grasses with "decorations" the bird has collected. It's mostly bleached white snail shells, each shell about 2-inches across. There are perhaps 100 or 200 of them. Mostly spread out on the entrance approaches, front and back. And inside the bower, on the floor, are many clear pieces of glass or plastic, plus some silver and a few snail shells. In addition, outside, amongst the shells are a few pink baubles - a pink plastic drinking straw, a little ball, a button, some ribbon. {This bower bird is quite plain, mostly a tan-grey bird but he also has a lavender crest he can show during the displays. So he prefers the pink items to match his crest. The blue Satin bird had blue items and the Golden bowerbird had the yellow lichens. Colors that enhance their own natural plumage}

I take some photos and some video, then I take the pink straw and lean it up against a stack of shells. Then we retreat to see what the Bowerbird will do. "Don't fool with Mother Nature" wells up inside my brain. It's not too long till in comes the large, pale grey bird with black markings. A not very pretty bird, unless you count his character. Then he's great.

The bird passes right over the pink straw, enters the bower, looks around a little, picks up one of the shells and we think he is just rearranging things when he flies off. And it's here and now that we know this is an interloper. We were told by the service station man that there are actually two birds, and they keep stealing things from each other. Uh, about that good character...

Rival Great Bowerbird Stealing a Snail Shell

We follow another instruction, this one from Ron, the owner of Kingfisher Caravan park, and go to Abbatoir Swamp, hoping for Northern Fantail, but there are no calls in the dry car park. We can look down at the water and see cormorant, Intermediate Egret, White-faced Heron and Straw-necked ibis. We move down to the main boardwalk. Then...

I lose. I see a snake swimming in the water, making its way around the perimeter of the water. I show Sharon, who is flushed with nervous excitement. "Where?" she says, as the snake disappears around a little bit of peninsula. Then it shows up again, and she has it.

Later we look up the snake in the reptiles book I ordered from, and we make it to be a Keelback. The color looks right - sort of golden. It supposedly has the unusual capacity of a snake to be able to discard its tail. The book says it's active at dusk, and it's mid-day here, but the picture looks pretty much a dead ringer for the snake.

You see, I bet Sharon we wouldn't see any snakes. As the old Indian said after bidding goodbye to his family and tribe, and walking out into the wilderness to die, then walking back into camp three days later, when they asked him what was going on, "I was wrong."

We finish up and drive on into Mossman, then check into the Mossman Bicentennial Caravan park, which takes only cash, and eye the olympic size swimming pool. It looks good on a hot day. {They have an active swim team here by the schedules posted and it says one of the coaches coached many Olympic swim team members.}

We watch a TV special on Jazz on PBS, and it's a lot of fun. During the show they are talking and showing a factory with the word NABISCO painted vertically on a tall exhaust stack, when the voice-over guy says the words "...National Biscuit Company."

In a wonderful moment similar to those that earned me the nickname "Robin" at Stanford in 1966, I yelled, "Oh...Oh...Oh. Can you believe that?" I looked at Sharon excitedly, quite sure that I was the first person in the universe to figure this out, and got that look of, "You've GOT to be pulling my leg. Of course you aleady knew that." Only I didn't. Or maybe I knew and forgot. Like the half-life of strontium-90.

We have an early dinner, then drive to the AA meeting location, only about two blocks away. I work on a trip report during the meeting, and by 840pm, we are back at the camp. It's been a great day, though a little slithery, says Sharon. {Heard at an AA meeting, "I may die with this disease, but I don't have to die FROM this disease."}

Earlier today, we talked with a fellow who had made a booking to take a boat trip up the Mossman, led by a birder guide - Peter Cooper. I called him, and made reservations for Sharon and me. We might see Mangrove Robin tomorrow!

But Good Night for now, from The Land Down Undah.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 7. (Yellow-spotted Honeyeater, Grey Whistler, Graceful Honeyeater, Varied Triller, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Double-eyed Fig-parrot, Great Bowerbird).
For the Trip: 162.

Trip Birds Today: 7 (The 7 Lifers)
For the Trip: 201.

Snakes Seen Today: 1. (Keelback, at the Abbatoir Swamp)
For the Trip: 1.

Campsite: Mossman Bicentennial Caravan Park, Mossman, Queensland


Monday, September 1, 2003. Day 19 of 118. UP THE MOSSMAN RIVER.

It's 805am and we are headed for Newell Beach, to meet Peter Cooper. We realize that there aren't going to be any ATMs in the area, so we double back to Mossman, and withdraw $300 Australian. We then proceed to the boat launch.

It's a gorgeous day, blue sky, sun up, a little breeze, and we're looking up the Mossman River. Peter's car and a small boat trailer are parked right beside us, and he motors up to the dock in his small boat, with a lady client, apparently, who he's taken up the river and back very early.

He says he'll be back soon, as he has to take the woman to her hotel. In the meantime, we meet his other two clients for this boat trip - Chris, a 35-year-old-appearing man and his 10-year old daughter, Georgie, but whom he calls George. She's a cutie, very sharp, and is openly curious about us.

Chris is a photographer and has the setup I once coveted - a Nikon SLR camera with a 600 mm telephoto lens. The whole rig is about two feet long. He has a tripod for it, and a special fresnel lens/flash. Upon our question, he says he just does it for himself, but Georgie immediately tells us that some of his photos have been put in calendars and more. He's a large - not fat, man, with a rubber-banded ponytail, a photographer's vest, a good Aussie hat, and he's very willing to help us ID birds.

Peter is back now, and he and the two of them appear to know each other. Peter gets us all into position. Looking at the boat from the rear, Sharon is sitting on the right rear, Georgie on the right front. I am left rear, and Chris is left front. Peter is middle back, near the motor, of course.

We take off, with the big Evinrude pushing us, and a smaller, quiet electric motor in place for quiet maneuvering. The advantage of this boat, which at first disappointed me because it was so small and didn't have a sunshade, is that it can get into tight spaces and closer to banks. So here we go...

Our first bird is Striated Heron, on the bank. A half-dozen Bee-eaters fly over. Both Peter and Chris are good with bird calls as well as appearance, and I think Chris is a little better. But to have them both in the boat is lucky for us.

We get Dusky Honeyeater, and Chris says he hears a Graceful, also. An Intermediate Egret flies across the river, perches in the top of a tree. Next comes a rapid Double-eyed Fig-parrot flyover, just before our first AZURE KINGFISHER*. Then a Sacred Kingfisher. We get a HELMETED FRIARBIRD* on the left. Nice.

The Friarbird is working on blossoms only open one night, and that was last night. A Collared Kingfisher nest in a termite bulge on the side of a tree trunk.

Today is September first, and when we say that, Georgie reaches over, pinches her dad on the knee, then punches him in the arm while saying, "A pinch and a punch - first of the month." Then, "It's what you do on the first of every month." Then her dad says, "And sometimes it doesn't have to be the first of the month."

A nice LITTLE KINGFISHER* flyover from right to left. I'm looking it up in the book when everybody else sees three more. A female Darter and a Little Pied Cormorant are next. Peter and Chris can't quite make up their mind if a bird is a Brown-backed Honeyeater, so we pass on it. A pair of Whimbrels fly up the river when upset by us. We get a nice Varied Triller. There is a sound more prevalent than any other, sort of like a gurgle. I ask Peter what it is, and he says, "Yellow Oriole." We next get a nice SHINING FLYCATCHER* {This bird is a beautiful "shining" black all over and when he opens his mouth it is bright red inside!}, then Peter steers us up to the mangroves. He points out the nice AMETHISTINE PYTHON*, curled around a branch of a tree. {The largest python in Australia, able to eat wallabies.}

Holy cow, you should see Sharon squirm when Peter asks, "Is everybody ok with SNAKES?" Sharon says, "As long as they don't get in the boat." Next come a Bridled Honeyeater and another friarbird, and a nice BLACK BUTCHERBIRD* flyover that we can finally claim.

We come to a dirt bank and shore, and get a Black-fronted Dotterel, but don't see the youngster that was here yesterday. We get a Sunbird nest, then two more. I pick us up a Golden-headed Cisticola in tall grass on the bank. Further up the river, we get the nest of a Large-billed Gerygone.

A Great Egret and a LITTLE EGRET share a tree, then we pick up a female Leaden Flycatcher. A Black Kite and a pair of Figbirds fly over from right to left. Female Sunbird, Collared Kingfisher and a triple Strawneck Ibis sighting next. We finally get a YELLOW ORIOLE* flying up to a tree for our clear view.

Peter shows us a Double-eyed Fig-parrot nest hole in a dead branch. There are two old holes also. To match the nest we saw earlier, we get a LARGE-BILLED GERYGONE*, then get a great look at a Shining Flycatcher.

White-faced heron, a cormorant, Pheasant Coucal. A nice male Darter with his brown throat check us out after a 2-3 minute high speed run Peter sets us on to "blow out the oil," that has accumulated from all the low-speed maneuvering.

We come to the junction of the Mossman and the South Mossman, and head up the South Mossman, right after everybody but me sees an Eastern Water Dragon.

We slow down to pass under a very, very low bridge, and Peter says we have gone up the river so far, that we are only about 2 k's from the Mossman Post Office. In the shallower water now, we get a nice male Shining Flycatcher and a Large-billed Gerygone working on a nest. A White-breasted Woodswallow works high over us. Georgie spots a beautiful Ulysses blue butterfly. Peter discovers another Amethistine Python, and sort of parks the boat with me under the snake, and I get a little squirmy till we move again.

A pair of Whistling Kites pass overhead, then we get a COMMON GREENSHANK. A group of Masked Lapwings on a sandbar are joined by a COMMON SANDPIPER*, which landed then bobbed its tail up and down a little bit.

It's noon when we pick up our BROWN-BACKED HONEYEATER*, preening in the sun.

We finally exit the river and move out into the bay, over by a sandbar covered with waterbirds. We get Silver Gull, Caspian Tern, Gulbilled Tern, and a bunch of CRESTED TERNS*.

We go back to the boat ramp and exit the boat. Peter gives us directions to some birds we want, and when Chris finds out we're going to the tip of Cape York, he tells us that he was there recently, and gives us some directions to places to try.

One of my few regrets is that we did not take Chris Dahlberg's Daintree River Cruise instead of, or in addition to Pete's Mossman River one.

We make it to Cairns and the Esplanade, but can't get anything new. It's sprinkling lightly. We go to a place Peter recommended to try for Beach Stone-Curlew, but the high tide makes us abandon these efforts. We turn around and head back, then stop at a nice stretch of grass under a giant tree, with palms between us and the beach. A cool breeze sets it off. It's lunch time, and we eat outside. Very relaxing, though we keep jumping up to check out a new bird. We load up but decide to take a nap first.

Refreshed, we go to Centenary Lakes, hoping to actually SEE Mangrove Robin. We are walking along when we hear this squawk, squawk. Sharon asks if that's a Scrubfowl, and I say no, that is a Yellow-crested Cockatoo. Then, taking his clue, the Scrubfowl walks out of the trees, up the path and back into the trees. Sharon discretely says nothing.

We make it back out to the main road, but about 100 meters from where we parked. Walking back, I notice two adults and a juvenile across the road, under two large trees. They aren't moving. I first think they're gulls, but when I put the binoculars on them, I slowly realize what I'm looking at. "Sharon," I say, and tell her where to look. We're both amazed at the BUSH STONE-CURLEWS*, and after a bit we realize that the youngster is gone. Maybe into the grass.

Bush Stone-curlew

We take off, and Sharon finds us City Caravan Park, in Cairns, not too far from the motorhome depot where we will drop our vehicle off for its scheduled 8000 km servicing. We'll get a cab from there to the airport, only about 2 km away.

I fill the water tank and plug into electricity. We have dinner, then pack up all the stuff we want to take with us to Bamaga, the name of the main village up at the top of Cape York. I go to sleep wondering what tomorrow will be like, and I'm almost too excited to go to sleep.


Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 12. (Azure Kingfisher, Helmeted Friarbird, Little Kingfisher, Black Butcherbird, Mangrove Robin, Yellow Oriole, Large-billed Gerygone, Shining Flycatcher, Common Sandpiper, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Crested Tern, Bush Stone-Curlew).
For the Trip: 174.

Trip Birds Today: 15, (The 12 Lifers plus Whimbrel, Little Egret, Common Greenshank)
For the Trip: 216.

Snakes Seen Today: 2 (Amethistine Pythons).
For the Trip: 3.

Campsite: City Caravan Park, Cairns, Queensland

[This is the end of Trip Report 7. Thank you for reading]

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